A 'hernia' literally means a rupture (from the Latin word), and describes complications related to the appearance of a hole or rupture in the muscle wall of either the abdomen or the chest, allowing internal organs to 'stick out' through the muscle wall.
Men get hernias more than women - roughly 25% of men develop one or more hernias in the groin region during their lives as against women where only 3% develop these types of hernia.
Occasionally the protruding organ can be (very) gently coaxed back into place by the doctor (a so-called 'reducible' hernia) but where this is not possible (a 'non reducible hernia') the hernia is liable to be strangulated and possible infected. Hernia repair surgery is the best option for both types.
Hernias may form in many parts of the muscle wall and are named according to where they appear and the causes (outlined below).
Some hernias are hereditary, some are brought on by changes in the body (e.g. weakening of muscles in the abdomen with age or weight gain) and injuries or accidents can also cause hernias. For example groin hernias are very common in mainly men over 50, but also in babies (i.e. under a year old).
Men and women tend to suffer from different types of hernia due mainly to differences in physiology.
The following are some relatively common types of hernia...
Diaphragmatic (or 'Hiatus') Hernia
Where a part of the stomach and oesophagus moves through a gap in the diaphragm (the muscle that controls breathing that sits underneath the lungs). The gap allows the oesophagus to connect with the stomach below, but it is the weakest part of the muscle. Hiatus hernia is very common - only inguinal hernias are more common.
Where a hernia develops from the abdomen floor into the leg below - this is at the top of the thigh in the groin. Femoral hernias are more common in women than in men.
Where there is incomplete healing of surgical scars after a surgical procedure so called 'incisional hernias' may develop.
Where there is an inherited (ie congenital) weakness in the abdomen muscles and a hernia develops as a result. More men than women are susceptible to inguinal hernias, but (as noted above) they are very common for men and women, and tend to appear in middle age.
Weakness in the abdominal muscles near the navel is fairly common, and a hernia that appears as a result is known as an umbilical hernia.
Most hernias can only be treated with surgery and, in the case of non reducible hernias, should be operated on immediately. Reducible hernias should also be corrected with surgery in most cases, to prevent future recurrence or related issues.
Surgery to correct hernias can be conducted either via conventional or keyhole surgery.
Muscles that have ruptured are mended using either an approach called 'tension suture' where the muscles are repaired by reconnecting tissue where it has come apart, or a newer technique where special mesh is inserted into the affected area to hold the organ in. This has the advantage of being less prone to the hernia reopening due to pressure from straining.